I know in German that the infinitive clause

... zu arbeiten.

means ... to work ...

but I was reading the sentence

Meiner Meining nach sollten wir aufhören zu arbeiten

and initially, I thought the sentence would be translated as

In my opinion we should stop to work

and this didn't make any sense.

When I consulted my professor, he said it actually was translated to the gerund:

In my opinion, we should stop working.

His reasoning though didn't make much sense to me.

I thought that because we are using a conjugated modal verb, the verb in concern goes to the end as the infinitive, as shown. But here with the "zu" in front of the verb "arbeiten", I'm stuck as to wondering where the gerund has come from because it looks like a modal verb and infinitive clause put together, which doesn't make sense to me.

Why does the sentence read "... we should stop working"?

  • Is the reason that this doesn't "make sense" to you is that it clashes with "in order to"? You can say "we have to start to work" though, don't you?
    – vectory
    Jan 24, 2019 at 22:44
  • 3
    Please see my answer to an older question: german.stackexchange.com/questions/39346/… To keep it simple: The German zu-Infinitiv is sometimes used where English uses its gerund, which German lacks. No other magic involved.
    – Janka
    Jan 24, 2019 at 22:47
  • This might answer your question Why do non-native English speakers get the present-participle wrong which is should say the gerund-participle, but since I misread "parallel construction" as if it meant a grammatical form I started thinking "progressive participle" would fit better in line with present-progressive. Which German does not have. That might be part of the problem.
    – vectory
    Jan 24, 2019 at 23:59
  • @Janka "No other magic involved." - 100 Punkte! Den merk' ich mir! :-)) Jan 25, 2019 at 11:58

1 Answer 1


The point is: German simply doesn't have a gerund.

(Or, put into your words: "The English gerund doesn't make sense to Germans")

Instead, it has an "Infinitiv mit zu", which English doesn't have. This is how we express verbs attributing the predicate of a sentence. Those are different approaches to expressing the same matter with different grammar building blocks.

There is no word-by-word literal translation of a German "Infinitiv mit zu" to English and no such thing in German for an English gerund. Apart from translating the words, you also need to transform the grammar building blocks to something known in the other language while translating.

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